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New app designed to combat unconscious bias sounds helpful but is no silver bullet

A new internet company named Blendoor has developed an app that will hide the names and photos of job seekers from employers in order to lessen the effect of unconscious bias on hiring decisions.  It is well established that everyone harbors biases against certain groups of people and those biases influence our decisions on an unconscious level.  Social scientists have studied and tested this phenomenon for decades.  If you don’t believe in the pervasiveness of unconscious bias, you should check out some of the tests that measures unconscious bias called implicit association tests (IAT).  IAT shows that even people who strongly believe that they have no discriminatory biases do harbor biases that affect their decision making on an unconscious level.

We have reported on a variety of studies which show statistically significant differences in the ways that certain types of job applicants face discrimination based on religion, age, and sexual orientation.  Other studies have shown similar results with respect to sex and race.  Blendoor’s founder, Stephanie Lampkin, believes that hiding information that indicates applicants’ genders and races can lessen the disparities in hiring rates for people of color and women.  Lampkin also believes that women and people of color will be more comfortable creating profiles on Blendoor than other platforms, such as Linkedin, where job seekers’ names are visible and employers often expect to see applicants’ photos.

Blendoor’s methods sound like they may help lessen disparities but they are unlikely to eliminate disparities.  Blendoor is designed for the tech industry and employers in that industry will likely interview applicants before hiring them.  If that interview process is not carefully crafted to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias, that bias will likely still impact a significant number of hiring decisions.  Furthermore, many employers rely on information about applicants’ criminal histories, credit histories, and employment histories to make hiring decisions.  African American and Hispanic applicants are statistically more likely to have problematic criminal histories, credit histories, and/or employment histories than white applicants.  For example, a disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic people get arrested for and convicted of crimes as compared to white people.  These disparities in criminal histories, credit histories, and employment histories are also due, in part, to unconscious bias.  Thus, when employers rely on these types of histories, the societal problem of unconscious bias can still create disparities in the hiring process unless an employer takes steps to correct for this unconscious bias.